WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's national security adviser said Tuesday that nations need to work together better to combat money laundering and other crimes that send arms, drugs and other deadly weapons across international borders.
James Jones told a security conference in the southern Russian resort of Sochi that such cross-border crimes are a growing national security threat. He expressed concern that criminal syndicates could collaborate with terrorists seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
His push for greater cooperation came the same day that a Bangkok court removed a key legal obstacle to the extradition of alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bout, who allegedly supplied weapons fueling civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa, has been fighting extradition to the U.S., where he would face terrorism-related charges.
Bout has been a symbol of American concerns about cross-border criminal organizations dating back to the Clinton administration, but he eluded authorities until U.S. narcotics agents arrested him in a sting operation in Bangkok in March, 2008. Russia says he's innocent and wants him returned to his homeland.
Jones did not mention the Bout case in his remarks and senior U.S. officials said his speech should not be interpreted as a message to Russia, noting the Bout case is strictly a judicial matter.
Instead, the retired Marine general spoke broadly about the increased efforts by the U.S. and Russia to work together — on arms control, violent extremism and the Afghanistan war, and called for cooperation on a new front.
"This lethal nexus of organized crime, narco-trafficking, and terrorism is a threat that the United States, Russia and all of us share and should be working together to combat," he said.
"Today, right now, we have an opportunity for cooperation not just between the United States and Russia, but among all nations represented here today. It's up to us to seize the moment at this important conference," he said.
Jones and other U.S. officials have warned that international crime syndicates are expanding and acquiring more powerful weapons. Using the drug trade as an example, he said opium and heroin from Afghanistan funds the Taliban, as well as insurgents and criminal groups in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia.
Earlier this year, Dennis Blair — then the director of National Intelligence — told a Senate committee that there is a growing connection between organized crime, government and intelligence figures in Russian and Eurasian states. That trend, he said, risks undermining competition in gas, oil, aluminum and precious metals markets.
Russian officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense were not immediately available for comment on Gen. Jones's speech.
In Thailand on Tuesday a criminal court dismissed a new trial against Bout. An appeals court had earlier ordered his extradition to the U.S., but the prospect of another trial had threatened to stall his transfer. Thailand's Prime Minister has said he still needs to weigh in on the case.
Associated Press Writer Mansur Mirovalev reported from Moscow.